There are variations on spelling the name, including tan tan or tantan. The name refers to the pole on which street vendors traditionally sold the dish and, according to Wikipedia, the name literally translates to “noodles carried on a pole” or “peddler’s noodles”.
Thanks to a Kiwi Instagrammer’s general ingredients guidance (and twenty year vegan), I came up with my version. Thanks, Monsieur Vegan Burger! Serves four.
For the soup:
- 750ml-1L vegetable stock or water
- 2 Tablespoons tahini (either light or dark, whichever you prefer)
- 2 Tablespoons miso (again, either light or dark depending on your preference)
- thumb sized fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 Tablespoon Sichuan pepper corns or 1 hot chili, chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons shoyu soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons mirin
- 2 Tablespoons sake
- chili oil (to taste and/or optional)
- juice of 1 lemon
For the rest:
- one block of tofu (firm or extra firm), cubed
- 100-200g shiitake (or other type) mushrooms (optional), thinly sliced
- noodles of your choice (ramen, soba, udon, Thai rice or if you do not fancy noodles, use bean sprouts instead)
- 200-300g spinach or kale or Chinese/pointed cabbage, chopped
- 1-2 Tablespoons sesame seeds (light or black)
- 4-5 spring onions, chopped
Start by cubing the tofu, boiling it and then either pan frying it or baking it in the oven. See these instructions for getting your tofu to the best possible texture. Ensure the tofu is nice and crispy so that it will soak up the soup base, while still remaining crispy. Set the tofu aside while you prepare the soup.
If you will be using mushrooms, then quickly sauté these (with oil or water) and set aside. See photo below of a version of this dish with mushrooms.
In a large saucepan (large enough to hold the stock/water – no need to use multiple pans!) heat the sesame oil over medium-high flame. Watch that it doesn’t begin to smoke – it won’t take long.
Sauté the onion and ginger over medium-high heat until the onion is soft (10-12 minutes). Add the chili pepper and/or the Sichuan pepper corns after 5 minutes.
Finish cooking the onion and ginger. Lower the heat to low and add the tahini and shoyu. Stir well to combine these and add a little bit of vegetable stock/water to help you along.
Once well amalgamated, add the rest of the water/stock and turn up to high heat.
Cover and let it come to a boil – briefly. Immediately turn down the heat and simmer on low heat.
Add the kale/cabbage/spinach, tofu and mushrooms and cover. Let the soup simmer gently for five minutes or so, or while you prepare the noodles. The vegetables should be just wilted. If you prefer the vegetables more tender, then increase the cooking time.
Add the miso, mirin, sake, chili oil and lemon to the soup at the very end just before you are ready to ladle it into your bowl. Stir well, particularly to get the miso well amalgamated. Taste for seasoning and spiciness.
Prepare the noodles. Once they are cooked, drain and divide them up among your bowls. If you fancy this dish without noodles, then use a generous handful of bean sprouts instead! Ladle the soup on top of the noodles and sprinkle each bowl with sesame seeds and spring onions.
Serve warm. If you have left over soup, it keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days. Just remember to save it without the noodles or you might end up with a gooey noodly mush.
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First published 11 September 2015